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Rockdale grads Thompson, Ware to play in NCAA Tournament

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Louisville Cardinals guard Kevin Ware, a Rockdale graduate, tries to pass the ball under pressure from Syracuse Orange forward C.J. Fair (5) and center Baye Keita (12) during the second half of their NCAA men’s championship final basketball game at the 2013 Big East Tournament in New York on Saturday.

CONYERS — A pair of former Rockdale basketball stars are headed to the NCAA Tournament. Bernard Thompson and Kevin Ware, both members of the Bulldogs team that appeared in the 2011 state championship game, will play in tournament games starting Thursday.

Thompson, who had a sterling sophomore campaign at Florida Gulf Coast (Fort Myers, Fla.), including winning Atlantic Sun defensive player of the year after finishing the regular season sixth nationally in steals per game, will join his Gulf Coast teammates in the South regional. The No. 15 seed Eagles will play No. 2 seed Georgetown in a second-round game Friday.

Thompson, a 6-3 guard, comes into the tournament averaging 14 points and 2.8 steals, while shooting 47 percent (174 for 371) from the field in 34 games. In three Atlantic Sun Tournament games, Thompson averaged 13.6 points and 2.6 steals, helping the Eagles, in just their fifth year as a Division 1 school, reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

Ware has seen more playing time in his sophomore season at Louisville, averaging nearly 17 minutes per game heading into the NCAAs. Ware, a 6-2 guard, is also averaging 4.4 points 1.8 rebounds in 33 games (one start).

In the Big East Tournament, Ware had one of his highest-scoring games of the season as he chipped in with nine points and hit all three of his field goal attempts in the Cardinals’ 78-61 championship game victory over Syracuse.

Now Ware and Louisville, which won their second consecutive conference championship, will try to return to the Final Four. The Cardinals were rewarded for their 29-5 record with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in the Midwest regional and will play the winner of North Carolina A&T-Liberty in Thursday’s second round.